Donald Trump and Steve Bannon.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As the world waits with bated breath for President- elect Donald Trump to make the several thousand appointments to his coming administration, immediate focus has naturally fallen on his first choices, of Steve Bannon for top White House strategist and senior counselor, alongside Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus as chief of staff.
Much like Trump, much remains as yet unknown about Bannon, other than that his new boss trusts him. While his CV might have made Bannon a likely contestant on Trump’s erstwhile “reality” show, his background gives little clue as to how he will pass the test of actual reality.
Bannon is a media personality, but one whose outlet was Breitbart News, a website with an affiliated radio station that he bragged was “a platform for the alt-right.” This did not make him immune to attacks from the further Right, such as by ultra-conservative darling Glenn Beck, who described Bannon as a “nightmare” and compared him to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels in an article by Mark Hensch in The Hill.com.
Bannon wasn’t always a right-wing propagandist. He is a former banker with Goldman Sachs and has an MA from Harvard Business School. A Catholic, he has also made eight documentary films, one of which, In the Face of Evil, recounts Ronald Reagan’s battle with totalitarian state communism. Another was an attempt to rebrand Sarah Palin following her unsuccessful run for the vice presidency.
Bannon may or may not resemble his audience, but a series of radio interviews he conducted with Trump between November 2015 and June of this year revealed his ability to strategically channel hate into action – and even to soften Trump’s rhetoric into a more socially acceptable form. Whether this is more than just skillful spinning remains to be seen, considering that Trump is known for getting what he wants and tends to follow his own counsel.
As David A. Fahrenthold wrote in The Washington Post, “In those exchanges, a dynamic emerged, with Bannon often coaxing Trump to agree to his viewpoint, whether on climate change, foreign policy or the need to take on Republican leaders in Congress.
“At times, Bannon seemed to coach Trump to soften the harder edges of his message, to make it more palatable to a broader audience, while in other cases he pushed Trump to take tougher positions. He flattered Trump, praising his negotiating skills and the size of his campaign crowds.”
As the Washington Post reported, “there has been a celebration of the Bannon appointment on Stormfront, the neo-Nazi website, while the white-nationalist writer Richard Spencer exulted that Bannon will ‘chart Trump’s macro trajectory.’” Trump’s failure during the campaign to unequivocally dissociate himself from the underclass of American racists is one of the lingering danger signs that tarnish his election. Whatever the true cause, anti-Muslim and antisemitic hate crimes have surged during the campaign. The FBI’s latest statistics cite a 67% increase in hate crimes against Muslims last year. The Anti-Defamation League reports a spike in racist and antisemitic vandalism. The Southern Poverty Law Center has received reports of more than 400 instances of intimidation and harassment.
Former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke has loudly celebrated Trump’s victory, claiming credit in Politico.com that “Our people have played a HUGE role in electing Trump!” Not to be left out, the head of the neo-Nazi site Daily Stormer bragged that “we did this.”
Trump claimed to be very surprised to learn of violence and racial threats being made in his name, and told CBS’s 60 Minutes that “if it helps, I will say this, and I will say right to the cameras: ‘Stop it.’” America’s struggle against its legacy of racism from slavery still has a long way to go, and the same goes for the latent xenophobia that the Trump campaign exploited against Latinos and Muslims. The world has been shocked by a campaign that made it safe for a minority of overt racists to hate openly. It is time for the incoming president, and his advisers, to say stop it.